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Ex-Miramonte teacher gets 25 years for lewd acts with kids (Update)

Miramonte Elementary School is the center of a scandal where two teachers have been accused of engaging in lewd acts with students.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.

Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte teacher who pleaded no contest to 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children, has been ordered to serve 25 years in prison.

Berndt, 62, will not be eligible for parole; he cannot appeal the ruling and must register as a sex offender. Since he’s been in jail since his arrest in January 2012 while awaiting trial, Berndt will serve at least 19 years in prison, according to his defense attorney.

“Mr. Berndt is profoundly sorry,” said attorney Manny Medrano. “He is profoundly remorseful, your honor, for any pain and discomfort that he might have brought to any victims in this case and any other family member.”

Medrano said his client agreed to a plea arrangement as a way to keep the 23 kids from having to testify in court had the trial went into a preliminary hearing and perhaps full trial.

The courtroom was full Friday for the hearing with parents of the child victims and lawyers who are suing the L.A. Unified School District in connection to the charges against Berndt.

Ten parents gave victim impact statement about how the crimes have affected their children and families. Some said how their children couldn’t bear to eat cookies anymore.

“He’s a perverse animal. I want justice to be done,” said one weeping mother in Spanish. “He robbed my daughters of their innocence and of their childhood.”

Another parent said it’s been difficult to explain to her 9-year old daughter what her favorite teacher did. She told the judge she will never forget the call from the Sheriff’s Department saying her daughter needs to be checked out by a doctor.

“It has been very hard and it continues to be very hard,” she said. “I believe in justice and I wanted justice to be done for my daughter and for all my children that have suffered.”

Only one victim statement written by a parent who didn’t attend the court hearing was in support for Berndt saying, “He was a good man and a good teacher to my girls.”

Some of the parents asked the judge to sentence him more time in prison. But the judge said because Berndt is an older man, 25 years could end up being a life sentence.

Medrano said the prison sentence was unwarranted because his client was not being charged with sexual molestation. They asked for 15 years but agreed for 25 years in prison.

“No child was inappropriately touched,” he said.

The allegations against Berndt surfaced when a photo processor alerted police of pictures of children in a classroom who were blindfolded with tape on their mouths.

One mother who said her name was Maria stated that her daughter is going through therapy and she is worried about how this incident will affect her as an adult. She said she was mad at the school district for not notifying the parents about Berndt.

“They knew of the abuse that Mr. Berndt was doing,” she said. “I’m asking for a change from the district to prevent sexual abuse of children because we don’t know what will happen to them in the future.” 

Berndt was fired and the Los Angeles Unified School District then paid him $40,000 to drop his appeal, which officials said was the most immediate way to ensure he wouldn't be a threat to other children. The move was heavily criticized.

Dozens of lawsuits and claims were filed on behalf of victims. Sean Rossall, a district spokesman, said 63 cases have been settled for a total of $29.5 million, and 71 are still pending.

This story has been updated.